Patent Law Basics
A patent is a government grant of rights over an invention, giving the grantee the authority to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or from importing the invention into the United States. Patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) after a review process. There are three types of patents:
1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;
2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and
3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
Patents typically last 20 years from the date of application. After the initial application, the patent application undergoes a rigorous examiniation process before the USPTO which can take months or even years to approve.
Primary sources of authority
Title 37, Code of Federal Regulations
Title 37, CFR contains regulations covering patent, trademark and copyright. Although a highly technical area of the law, the regulatory authority of the USPTO is limited and so regulations covering patents are minimal, mostly covering the process of application and issues such as representation before the USPTO. Title 37 is also available online through the US Government Publishing Office (PDF and e-CFR) and from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.
Through its website, USPTO publishes a number of extremely useful resources for both individuals and lawyers practicing in this area. Among the most useful are:
Patent Trial and Appeal Board
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) is housed within the USPTO. Its duties review of adverse decisions, review of appeals of reexaminations, derivation proceedings, inter partes and post-grant reviews, and rendering decisions on interferences.Through its website you can find:
In addition to the law governing patent application and enforcement, it is also important to be able to find and research patents themselves. Reseraching prior patents can be a complex process; it is not unusual to pay significant search fees. The following sources can help you locate and research patent history: